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In downtown Toronto, $1,100 a month gets you a toilet, a hot plate and ‘crushing sadness’

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-03-09 Stefanie Marotta - Staff Reporter,Jack Hauen - Staff Reporter
a large room: Home, sweet home: The Kijiji post describes the rental unit near Cabbagetown as a "cute little bachelor." © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Home, sweet home: The Kijiji post describes the rental unit near Cabbagetown as a "cute little bachelor."

A small, bare-bones apartment near Cabbagetown that garnered gasps over social media on Thursday may pass as an acceptable rental unit under government regulations, and tenant advocates are concerned that it signals a worsening state of affordable housing.

The barren unit, listed on Kijiji as a “cute little bachelor,” near Carlton and Sherbourne Sts., elicited strong feelings about the state of Toronto’s heated housing market.

Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations executive director, Geordie Dent, called it a “ridiculous condition to live in” that fills him with a sense of “crushing sadness.”

“This entire apartment looks like it was thrown together with duct tape and glue,” he said.

Even so, with crumbling brick walls and a storage shelf for bed space, the apartment as it is shown on the advertising website could be acceptable under Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), said Tanya Walker, owner of Walker Law, a Toronto-based law firm specializing in property and franchise law.

“In many ways, the regulation provides the bare minimum,” Walker said.

The Kijiji post says that the apartment has “high ceilings Juliet balcony, loft area for single mattress or storage.” The asking price is set at $1,100 per month.

“As far as rent goes, it can be as high as the market will bear when a unit first enters the market,” Walker said.

The kitchen, located in the space under the unit’s storage shelf, includes what appears to be a minifridge, hotplate, microwave and a sink with a bucket underneath its pipe. The bathroom offers a sink, toilet, bathtub and a small potted plant.

According to the RTA, landlords in Ontario are required to provide only four fixtures: a toilet, kitchen sink, washbasin, and a bathtub or shower. More broadly, the act obliges landlords to keep appliances “in a good state of repair and in a safely operable condition.”

Dent said he’s seeing “more and more” apartments such as this, as Toronto faces a brutal housing shortage.

The only way to solve the crisis, he said, is with government-funded affordable housing.

He pointed to a video made by Twitter user @brndan_ showing the number of apartments built in Toronto year by year; there’s a large spike between about 1950 and 1980, and not much outside of that.

“The reason why that happened was because of federal programs to build housing,” he said.

“Government, at some level, has to build affordable housing, or else it’s just not going to get built.”

Walker said that she has noticed an increase in concerns about the safety and maintenance of rental units.

“These inquiries do not seem to violate the Act, but my thoughts are issues, such as this, raise awareness of tenants of their rights,” she said.

Tenant rights lawyer Jonathan Robart said that, despite the unit’s weathered minimalism, the landlord will likely receive a high level of interest, as the asking price is on the low end for the market.

“I have no doubt that they will have a number of people check out the apartment,” Robart said.

“It speaks to a failure on all three levels of government to deal with the affordable housing crisis.”

Poor quality rental units have been an issue in Toronto for years, but have only recently landed in the spotlight as rental increases started climbing to heights where middle class residents are having challenges affording housing, Robart said.

“It’s just getting a lot of attention now, because people who make decent salaries are getting kicked out of their condos because they’re being sold,” he said.

He pointed to a rental policy that came into effect when the Ontario government removed rent controls in November; the regulation, vacancy decontrol, allows landlords to charge whatever they want when a tenant moves out.

“Tenants are really afraid of losing their current unit,” Robart said. “If someone is forced out of their apartment, where a landlord sold their property, there’s a very good chance that whichever apartment they seek out will be priced much higher than their current unit. It forces them into a situation where they’re only able to afford units that are substandard or a step down from what they had to begin with.”

The City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Division said that the state of the unit is questionable.

“It appears that this apartment may not meet the minimum standards contained in the City’s Property Standards Bylaw, but an inspection of the actual room would be required to make any definitive determination of compliance or non-compliance with the bylaw requirements,” said Mark Sraga, the director of investigative services at the MLSD.

The Kijiji user listing the apartment has three other active rental and sales listings, including a basement apartment near Cabbagetown for $1,350 per month, a time share in Dominican Republic for $6,300 USD, and a “family compound” in Port Severn for $1,300,000. Calls to the number listed in the ad went unanswered.

Stefanie Marotta is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @StefanieMarotta

Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen

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